Animal life and mind in Hobbes’s philosophy of nature

  • Emre EbetürkEmail author
Original Paper


This paper explores Thomas Hobbes’s account of animal life and mind. After a critical examination of Hobbes’s mechanistic explanation of operations of the mind such as perception and memory, I argue that his theory derives its strength from his idea of the dynamic interaction of the body with its surroundings. This dynamic interaction allows Hobbes to maintain that the purposive disposition of the animal is not merely an upshot of its material configuration, but an expression of its distinctive bodily history. In support of Hobbes, I show how this is complemented by his account of the unity and continuity of the animal body in terms of a unification through the self-preserving drive that originates in perception. Nonetheless, I argue that Hobbes’s philosophy of animal life and mental faculties is hindered by a kind of epiphenomenalist perspective that is embedded in his materialist framework, and this perspective leaves the status of ideas and mental content unclear. I explain why Hobbes’s dynamic theory, founded upon the reciprocal determination of moving bodies, supports his idea of animal development and habituation while failing to account for the reflexivity of the mind.


Hobbes Sensation Perception Memory Phantasm Animal life Conatus Vital motion Voluntary motion Epiphenomenalism 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.BerlinGermany

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